Q & A With Dominic Monaghan
Remember your first tattoo? Maybe you took a few tentative trips to the local shop before you committed. Or maybe you woke up in a tub of ice with no memory of who or what it is that you now have scrawled across your chest. Regardless of your story, odds are Dominic Monaghan has you beat. You see, his involves booze, elves, wizards, and stunt doubles.
Monaghan got his big break in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he played Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, the fun-loving Hobbit who liked to chat up trees and smoke dope. While filming in New Zealand, Monaghan and the rest of the “Fellowship,” which included actors Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, and Orlando Bloom, decided to commemorate the grueling shoot with some ink. They all got the word “nine” spelled out in Elvish, a language created by author J.R.R. Tolkien. With a first tattoo story like that, it’s no wonder Monaghan didn’t stop there.
Neither did his career. On the heels of Rings, Monaghan took the leap into the perpetual mind-fuck that is the ABC series Lost, playing the island’s requisite heroin-addicted, possibly-alive-possibly-dead rock star, Charlie. As if those two things weren’t already enough to make him the king of Comic-Con, Monaghan will next be seen opposite Hugh Jackman in the X-Men spin-off movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In other words, if he got a tattoo to commemorate every big role, he’d be working on sleeves by now.
INKED: How many tattoos do you have now?
DOMINIC MONAGHAN: I have four or, arguably, five. I’ll say four.
Well, the fourth one is split into two things, but essentially it’s the same thing. That kind of makes it more four than five. It’s on my foot, and it’s a collection of stars, which is one piece, but it could be misconstrued as being two.You, along with your Lord of the Rings costars, got matching tattoos as a bonding ritual. Was that really your very first ink?
Yeah, it was the number nine written in the language of High Elvish, which is a Tolkien language out of the Lord of the Rings book. By that time I had spent about two or three months in New Zealand, which is such a tattoo culture-or, I should say, moko culture, because in New Zealand they call it the moko rather than the tattoo. It feels like maybe three out of every four people that you meet in a bar has some sort of ink on their body. It’s just very much a part of their culture. So myself and Orlando Bloom were the most intrigued and interested in getting a tattoo. And I’m quite an obsessive person, so with Orlando and me leading the charge, we started to throw around ideas. We had the idea of a ring, or we were like, “What if we spelled out the words ‘One ring to bind them all,’ or what if we write the word ‘fellowship’ or something like that?” Then we started researching the languages in the books and what looked the most beautiful. At first we wanted to do something in Hobbitish or the dwarves’ language, but those don’t draw very well. So we decided on Elvish, which is really quite beautiful. So then on one day when we all had the day off, we said, “Let’s meet at this place on Cuba Street in Wellington called Roger’s Tattooart.” So the whole nine of us went in there with booze and cameras and just documented the whole affair. It was just a really beautiful experience for me. I think that was a great introduction into the world of tattoos. It appealed to all the things that I get off on-a feeling of connection and a feeling of permanence and something authentic and something real.
Was it a totally unanimous decision, or did some of the nine have to be dragged in kicking and screaming?
Some were less passionate than others. Sean Astin wasn’t crazy interested at first. John Rhys-Davies wasn’t interested, so we actually had John Rhys-Davies’s stunt double come in and get the tattoo on John’s behalf. Myself, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, and Elijah were all very gung-ho.
Did you regret it once the needle started going to work?
No, I was quite disappointed that it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. I thought to do it would be much more of a baptism by fire, meaning you were in much more of an exclusive group because it was so excruciatingly painful. People would think, Holy shit, you’ve got a tattoo, that’s fucking hard-core. But I was disappointed. To me it felt like a bee sting. It’s an annoying pain but it’s not excruciating.
Now that you’re initiated, how do you view tattoos? Are they spur-of-the-moment things or do they document important moments in your life?
I think more than anything else it’s a way of documenting change in my life. When I go through a transition, I like to mark that transition on my body so that I know that it’s happened and I can look back at that tattoo and think, “Oh yeah, that was the time when this happened.” That’s the main reason why I get tattoos now.
Can you spoil something-anything-from Lost? Like, why is Hurley still fat?
I don’t know-they don’t tell us! If you think about it, if they’re telling an actor, chances are the actor’s going to tell his family. If he tells his family, chances are he’s going to tell his girlfriend. If the actor tells his girlfriend, he’s probably going to tell his friends-so that means his friends tell their families and everyone knows immediately. So they don’t tell us anything. I know that’s something people don’t believe, but we don’t know. And all these actors on the show that make out like they do know something-it’s bullshit. They’re just trying to come from a place of power where they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m on the inside.” They don’t know shit. It’s all ego posturing.
It seemed like, for while there, a DUI arrest occurred every week on the set of Lost. What the hell were you guys up to down in Oahu?
It was overblown. It’s just a very small island with three highways. You’re on one of three highways and the police, obviously, frequent those highways. If you’re driving, you will pass a police officer at some point on your trip. If you’re going over the speed limit they are, quite rightly, very strict about that in Hawaii. But there was this impression that we were all speeding all the time, but it wasn’t like that. It really wasn’t a partying group. In the early days, season one, when we were doing the pilot there was a little more partying than there is now. But everyone has families and everyone does their own thing now.
Next up, you appear in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. According to fan rumor, you’re playing a character called Beak-
No, actually. Everyone thinks I am, but I play a character called Barnell. He can control electricity.
Ah, so not the scrawny bird man.
The Beak thing was everywhere, yeah, but I keep saying, “No, that’s not me.” The first person who puts it in a magazine correctly will be the first person to get it right. I think he may be a combination of several characters that have appeared in the comic books.
Were you, or are you, a big comic book fan?
Yeah, I got into comics through becoming friends with Elijah Wood. In New Zealand, he and I would talk about comics. I was more into English comics and he was more into your classic American comics-your Batmans, your Spider-Mans, your Incredible Hulks. Since then I kind of got more interested in American comics. I obviously read a lot of Frank Miller stuff and Grant Morrison stuff … and Y: The Last Man and Sandman and Hellboy and stuff like that. I don’t think X-Men was my favorite comic, but it was certainly one that I’d read and was interested in. I like the more pulp fiction type stuff-slightly crazy, weird stuff. I read a great Japanese horror comic called Spiral that was just really fucking gnarly.
Lost. Lord of the Rings. Now the X-Men universe. Are there any geek boxes left to tick off?
Dr. Who or Star Trek, maybe? Oh, man, I don’t like Dr. Who at all. I think that’s rubbish. It’s real rubbish TV. I know a lot of people really like it, but I can’t get over the really shit special effects and the hammy acting. I don’t dig it at all. Star Trek? I’ll go see it, obviously. J.J. Abrams is doing the new one and I’m a big fan of J.J.’s, so I’ll go see that.
Are you happy being an actor who gets to play rock stars, or would you prefer to be the real thing?
I mean, I’d like to try it on, sure. It would be fun to see what it’s really like. But I think it would much more fit a more youthful Dominic. When I was younger, I was much better at drinking and not getting hangovers and misbehaving and not feeling bad about it and traveling without too much sleep. Late nights. Abusing your body. Nowadays I’m much more aware of time passing by. I get a kick out of taking care of my body now. Self-preservation is the new self-destruction.
What do you think you would have done had acting not worked out?
I still cook quite a lot. I was a chef for a while. I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed the experimentation of food. I like food, period. I think there was a chance that I could have gone back into the kitchen and learned my trade. I liked finding new things-”Capers? What am I going to do with fucking capers?” That sort of thing.
Is it true you bought a forest in India? How does one do that, exactly?
I found myself in a situation where I was fraternizing with environmentally conscious people and someone said to me, “You should be carbon-neutral with all the traveling you’ve been doing this year. You should see how much carbon you’ve used and try and offset that with trees.” I thought that was a fantastic idea and I discovered that I had used a forest’s worth of carbon. So I thought, How do I go about doing this? I spoke to a friend and he said, “Look, there’s a mango tree plantation in Bangalore, India, that we are trying to set up and we would love for you to be the person who offsets their carbon by donating to this forest.” So I said okay. So as far as I know, they’ve been picking mangoes and selling mangoes and, with the profits, planting more mango trees-benefiting people who enjoy mangoes. I enjoy mangoes, so more mangoes in the world I think is a great thing. You also bring a lot of nature indoors, right?
I have a baby royal python called Mojave. I have two tailless whip scorpions-one’s called Indiana and the other’s called Jones. I have a black widow spider named Samantha. I have a Jerusalem cricket called Toby, and I have a praying mantis called Ninja.
So you tend toward cuddly.
Yes, I have a cornucopia of beasties. I’m not interested in keeping domesticated animals because I don’t think that I can learn anything from them. What I like to do is keep an animal and understand by their wildness a little bit more about how I’m supposed to be. All of the animals that I keep don’t waste any of their time at all. If they’re not eating, then they’re sleeping. If they’re not sleeping, then they’re having sex. If they’re not having sex, then they’re drinking water. If they’re not drinking water, then they’re sleeping again. They are very economical with their time. They’re not concerned with any of the bullshit we surround ourselves with.
A black widow named Samantha?
There has to be a backstory to that one. An ex-girlfriend who broke my heart and tried to kill me? [Laughs.] No. I called it Samantha after the character on Sex and the City. Because she’s all legs and all attitude.